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Table tennis, a game already popular in the Asian countries, has finally found a strong foothold in the Silicon Valley where numerous youngsters play and train to excel in the sport, not only at the regional, state or national level, but all the way upto the Olympic challenge! Thanks to the tireless efforts of Rajul Sheth, founder of the ICC Table Tennis Center, and ably supported by Anil Godhwani, Co-founder and President of ICC. To its immense credit, this organization has produced four Olympians and over 30 nationally ranked players in the space of last eight years.

In a conversation, Rajul Sheth, the Center’s Director expanded on the immeasurable success of this venture at being able to attract the best coaches in the nation, and offer a world class training facility. These efforts have certainly paid off big time! The current center is housed in a 21,000 sq, foot facility in Milpitas, having expanded from being a 2-3 table endeavor to a 31 table enterprise, currently with about 300 students, half of whom are active, dedicated students, as well as over 1300 summer camp enrollees.

In its Annual Table Tennis Exhibition and Fundraiser for 2017, held at the ICC Tennis Center in Milpitas, the organization raised $120,000 through generous donors’ contributions which will go towards supporting current programs and future initiatives of the center. Raj Desai, CEO of ICC, as well as MCs Shauli Chaudhuri and Nilesh Patel, kept the momentum of the evening high and introduced various dignitaries, benefactors and supporters of the game and the center. Indian American dignitaries such as Ro Khanna, California State Assemblyman Ash Kalra, and Assemblyman Kansen Chu were spotted mingling with the guests and players. Special thanks were given to Steve Westley, a long-term benefactor, a politician, a Venture Capitalist, and a superb TT player, for his consistent support of the TT program. The USA TT Board’s CEO, Gordon Kaye graced the occasion with his presence and recounted how he was beaten by an 84-year old in a TT match! Other Board members included Olympian, Ann Cribs who represented USA in 1960 in Rome in swimming events. She shared later how far technology has come in changing the swimsuits from her bulky, strappy suits to the sleek, advanced materials of today.

The coaches, players and parents weighed in on the sheer dedication that any sport involves, and the tug of having to balance life’s responsibilities and make sacrifices to pursue such lofty goals. We are talking 3-4 hours a day of practice after school, and almost 6-7 hours on the weekend, six days a week, with juggling homework and other commitments. One of the Olympians, Timothy Wang contributes ICC for his success totally as he made the ultimate sacrifice to achieve his goal by travelling from Houston to the Bay Area to take advantage of this stellar program. Lily Zhang credits ICC with having been there for her in the best of times, and in the worst of times. Ariel Hsing talks about overcoming her nerves at the first Olympic game at London due to her skilled training here, and losing very narrowly to top ranking players. All that hard work bore sweet fruit, as two of these athletes are two times Olympians (2012 in London, and 2016 in Rio), while Ariel has represented the US at London.

A highly engaging part of the evening came in the form of seven spirited Exhibition matches put on for the benefit of the supportive and cheering audience numbering close to 300, where coaches, players, supporters and benefactors, and, lastly Olympians were paired off. From the youngest seven year old player to the more seasoned and experienced players, each exhibited skilled footwork, drills, strategy and their passion for the game. The mixed doubles match in which Anil Godhwani and Lily Zhang won a hard fought match against Steve Westley and Ariel Hsing, with a score of 11-7 showed strategy, stamina and skill in equal measure. The most anticipated game was that played between Lily and Timothy in which characteristic serving stances, high tosses with a foot thump as their signature serves, progressively longer volleys and lengthening distance between the two, the high jumps of Lily to return Timothy’s shots had the audience collapsing in helpless laughter. At one point, Lily crossed the barrier to the dinner tables to be able to return some of the plays, and at another point both players ended up playing across the width of the table, rather than its length!

Audience members were then incentivized to play a 5 point match against the Olympians to win a lollipop should they manage to come out ahead!! An irresistible offer that this reporter fell for, and had to nurse her injured pride of a resounding loss at the hands of Lily Zhang!

Raj Desai acknowledged that “the dedication of the coaches, hard work of the players and the unwavering support of the donors has helped ICC TT Center hit milestones year after year”. Fundraising along with membership dues and summer camp enrollments defray the running costs of the center, and the camaraderie of the close-knit community it fosters rewards all participants. Ishana Deb, a National champion, having been trained at this facility for the past 11 years attests to how this community of parents, coaches and peers has been a second home to her, and parents are comfortable leaving their children in safe hands. Anil Godhwani also commented that along with making champions, the game also builds character, resilience and sportsmanship. Not only were all these qualities present in these world class athletes; humility, sensitivity and sweetness were also abundantly evident! We are indeed proud of our players, and the community came together to show this pride in our young stars and the center that nurtures them and makes their dreams become a reality.